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Well what can I say? This album simply reeks of classic. The intro, "Nocturnal Obeisance" is half as long as the intro's on the first two albums, which can only be a good thing. After 90 seconds of the usual noises, "Massacre" bludgeons you over the head with a short, frenzied burst of pounding aggression and speed, with primitive riffing overlaid by frenzied vocal howls.
From there on in, the album alternates between the same violent black metal which characterised Bathory's first two albums - tracks like "Equimanthorn" and "Chariots of Fire" taking the speed and aggression that extra step further - while "Call From the Grave", "Enter the Eternal Fire" and "13 Candles" introduce an entirely new aspect: slow, crawling doom-laden atmosphere. These tracks helped define an entirely new aspect of heavy metal. Picking up where Hellhammer left off with "Triumph of Death", these three tracks defined black metal's atmospheric tendencies.
Lyrically, this was where Quorthon began to introduce the Viking them which would become much more prominent on Blood, Fire, Death. Mind you, there's still plenty of hellfire and Satan present here, but "Equimanthorn", "Massacre" and "Chariots of Fire" were the obvious turning point from comic-book inspired devil worship to Conan-inspired epicness. Of course, Quorthon's English here is still quite awful, but that merely adds to the charm.
It really doesn't get much more influential than this. From the grating, washed-out production where the guitars are thinned out to become purely a tool of ambience, to upping the ante on violence and aggression in black metal, at also introducing an entirely new approach to doom-laden pounding, Under The Sign of the Black Mark is simply THE quintessential album in the laying of black metal's modern foundations. At the same time, it's an amazing album in it's own right, without a single weak moment to be found. Along with Hammerheart, this forms a pinnacle of testament to the importance of Bathory's contribution to metal as we know it.